Musical pioneer Dineen seeks new frontiers

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

DISMAY greeted the news in August of this year that Irish radio presenter Donal Dineen’s 15 year run on Today FM (formerly Radio Ireland) was coming to an end - his much acclaimed Small Hours’ show to cease broadcasting on December 1.

DISMAY greeted the news in August of this year that Irish radio presenter Donal Dineen’s 15 year run on Today FM (formerly Radio Ireland) was coming to an end - his much acclaimed Small Hours’ show to cease broadcasting on December 1.

The late night show was a touchstone for many in discovering new and experimental music, Dineen acting essentially as a musical pioneer, encouraging and sharing new music of an ilk that no other presenter on commercial radio could match.

And there-in lay the rub - such a specialist show could not satisfy the demands of commercial radio. Dineen has always been somewhat bound by the strictures of commercial radio, his assortment of electronica and world music too eclectic for the station’s tastes.

We have no fear whatsoever that this standard bearer will disappear from our consciousness, as Dineen has always been one to push the boundaries, curating new music first through his ‘Month of Sundays’ tours and then ‘Fresh Air’ - bringing such acts as Katie Kim, Matt Elliot, James Yorkston, Sunken Foal and Thread Pulls to Limerick before anyone else.

Speaking to City Life, Dineen admits he is “on the precipice of unemployment” and will have to “come up with something” but says it is “unlikely to be another radio station in the short term, I am going to try and put stuff together on the web with podcasts and videos and other stuff”.

“These are how things are going - strange times for media in general, things are changing, but hopefully there is still room for ideas anyway,” he says. “I am really sad that the radio has to end, but I was given almost 15 years. If I was told that at the start, because it is a very tricky thing, keeping a non-mainstream show on commercial radio, then I would definitely have taken it, so I feel like I have had a really good innings. The main thing is that the music isn’t going to stop,” he says.

National radio’s loss may be our gain, as Dineen will come to Limerick this Saturday as part of the Stay At Home October Weekender to play one of his legendary DJ shows in Baker’s Bar - a gig that may see the Kerryman take up a residency here, one that would fit his tastes and ours like a glove.

“I would really like to do something on a regular basis if possible. Behind the recession there is a revolution in music and there are lots of things that are really exciting right now, so I would be hoping to try and put on a sort of live showcase, build a platform for new music on a regular basis, if I could.

“It has always been the case that Limerick is definitely - along with Cork and Galway - (among) the best places to play, just in terms of the audience. And these days an audience is precious, it is a really important thing. Even with the radio, I always found that I never hit the bottom rung of the ladder of listenership, but even at the same time, somebody gave me really good advice one time and said, if you have an audience you have to really try and speak to them and you will keep them and that is the important thing. Limerick has always had, at the core, a big bunch of music fans, and that is one thing that you notice,” he adds.

The timing of the move is crucially bound with the development of his Parish Recordings project, which began life several years ago, but has started to come to life - and of age - this year.

Parish began in 2007 when Dineen put together a show with Liam O Maonlai and Ronan O Snodaigh for Body and Soul at the Electric Picnic that year. It has gone from strength to strength and down some interesting avenues in the years that have followed, the DJ adding Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsumbu and singer Aminah Dastan to the ranks and purposefully entering the studio earlier this year.

“I have been working a lot on the Parish music, but I haven’t brought it to a level yet that I could honestly say I would be happy with. I might be happy today, but I probably wouldn’t be tomorrow,” he says. “When the radio finishes I am going to spend the month of December going to the studio regularly and trying to put a shape on some of those things.

“I feel that the steps I have taken in the last couple of years have been forward ones, even spending two weeks recording in January. A lot of what happens is down to what happens in the room with people, and there is a role there for somebody, even as a non-musician, a producer occupies a very important place in terms of bringing stuff out and then arranging and working with it. That has been exciting and it really only happened accidentally - with Electric Picnic, it took on wings after jamming with people really - so if that could keep going I would be really happy.”

Donal Dineen plays Baker’s Bar this Saturday. Doors 8pm, tickets €8 from the Wicked Chicken.